Yahoo!'s Telecommuting Fail and MilSpouses


There’s no doubt that the growing acceptance of telecommuting is the military spouse’s best friend. But what if that trend is about to turn around? What hope is there then for the career minded among us?

Yahoo! last week announced that they will be eliminating all telework, instead requiring everyone to work in person in their offices. The memo, sent by the HR department with the blessing of the company’s new CEO Marissa Mayer, said “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home … We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

Which is crazy, because study after study shows that not only does telecommuting increase productivity and lower stress among workers, people who telecommute tend to work more hours than those that don’t.

These two excellent commentaries – one here and one here -- bemoan Mayer’s decision on behalf of all women who are trying to balance work and family. But I want to focus on what a terrible decision this is for one specific (though small) portion of the workforce: military spouses.

Telework is the big Hope of the Future career wise for military spouses. The White House recognizes this, and included a large quantity of telework jobs in a roll-out last year of new employers for the Military Spouse Employment Initiative program to “meet spouses where they are,” according to the First Lady.

We know that if we can land a job locally with an employer that will allow us to telecommute after our next PCS we have it made. No more worrying about finding a gig at our next duty station. No more concerns about what we’ll do if we can’t find a job at all. Telecommuting is the answer.

But when a Fortune 500 company makes a very public human resources decision the way Yahoo! has other companies are likely to follow its lead. Even when all the research points in a different direction. Even when employees can prove that they are better at what they do when they do it from home.

According to the memo, Yahoo!’s decision is aimed at the ability to have face time for impromptu meetings and other happenstance collaboration, like running into someone in the cafeteria. (One has to wonder what kind of terrible communication those who telework for Yahoo! must have with the office to elicit this kind of a mandate).

If companies follow Yahoo!’s lead, the only telecommuting jobs that will be available to military spouses (or anyone else for that matter) are for call centers or tech support where collaboration and face time are not important – not for jobs that can turn into careers.

And military spouses tell us that they want actual careers – not just jobs. They want to use their hard-earned degree or certificate to build their resume in a field they are passionate about. And they want to be able to use telecommuting to do it when necessary.

Maybe I’m biased. I’m writing to you from my cluttered home office desk about 700 miles from my employer’s office. This arrangement allows me to be a stay-at-home mom and keep my kids out of daycare while still working about 30 hours a week. Traditional journalism jobs are few and far between – and potential employers in the field frown deeply when it becomes clear that you probably won’t be around long enough to build a good local source list. Without my telecommute job, which has followed me through four states, I would absolutely be jobless.

And it’s not just about my home’s proximity to my corporation. It’s about my need for flexibility. Without a spouse to rely on consistently I, like many military spouses, am both Mom and Dad a lot of the time. That means pick-ups, drop-offs, games, parties, errands, laundry, dinner, appointments and everything else is on me. The ability to keep non-traditional office hours or take a break to pop dinner on the stove is key to me making working work.

Of course not all telecommuting jobs come with flexible work hours. But they all come with ability to walk out my office door, pop in a load of laundry, and walk back in. Call it the work-from-home version of a water cooler break.

Telecommuters must wage an uphill battle as it is to prove that their time at home is more productive than time in the office would be. Since we’re already experts at proving the worth of hiring military spouses to start with, the best way I can see for us to counteract the Yahoo! decision is to continue to prove to our employers that we are valuable, productive employees.

The proof is in the pudding or, in this case, the work flow. And the burden is on us to show that we are valuable from afar. So for those of us who telecommute already, let’s remember this: every time we file a report ahead of schedule or turn in an extra assignment weeks before it is due because we are just THAT productive from the corner in our kitchen we score one for those hoping to work from home in the future.

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